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Ramirez, strong wind powers Cubs
Cubs magic number: 1
A baseball was placed strategically inside the cracked windshield of a car parked at 3703 N. Kenmore Ave. on Friday morning as part of an ad campaign for automobile insurance.
But Carlos Zambrano hit a batting practice home run that actually flew over the car and smashed the windshield of a Ford Focus parked right behind it, proving once again that the Cubs are stranger than fiction.
It took all summer for one of those tried and true "Wrigley Field" kind of days to arrive, and the Cubs took full advantage of a strong southwesterly wind in Friday's wild 13-8 victory over Pittsburgh before an emotionally drained crowd of 41,591.
Aramis Ramirez hit two three-run homers, and Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto also homered in a 16-hit attack.
"We said when they came, they would come in bunches," manager Lou Piniella said of the homer binge. "And that's exactly what's happening."
After Milwaukee beat Atlanta on Friday night, the Cubs were still 1 1/2 games ahead in the National League Central race.
With the season dwindling down, a lead of more than one game is huge.
"Yeah, with eight games left, it seems a lot bigger," first baseman Derrek Lee said.
"But you don't want to look behind you. We're in the driver's seat, so if we play good baseball, we can kind of control our own destiny."
Piniella earned his 1,600th career victory, moving ahead of Tommy Lasorda for 16th place on the career list.
He watched the Cubs record their eighth win in 10 games despite starter Jason Marquis blowing an early lead and lasting less than three innings.
Now Piniella needs a big outing Saturday from Rich Hill, after the bullpen was forced to carry the load Friday.
"We need another week of momentum," Piniella said. "It feels good to win these games. They're key games, they're clutch games, and these kids are performing."
Soriano homered leading off for the second straight game—on the first pitch he saw—and the 10th time this season, before Ramirez added a three-run shot off Paul Maholm that landed somewhere on Kenmore, giving the Cubs a 4-1 lead.
They led 5-2 in the third when Marquis gave up three straight two-out hits, getting the early hook after Cesar Izturis' RBI triple gave the Pirates a 6-5 lead.
"His pitches were a little flat," Piniella said. "I didn't see any sink on his pitches. He pitched a real nice ballgame in Houston and followed up with another nice one in St. Louis.
"Today there wasn't much there."
After Marquis' exit, Maholm bunted over Will Ohman's head to bring home the fifth run of the inning.
But the Cubs came back with two in the third, tying it at 7-7 on Franquelis Osoria's wild pitch.
At that point, everyone took a deep breath, including the Cubs' bullpen.
"There were 19 hits already and 14 runs," Scott Eyre said. "I'm like, 'Wait a minute, I have a stomach cramp. I don't want to pitch today.'
"It's one of those things where you go out there and say, 'I have to make pitches today.' Then it's, 'No, no, no, don't do that. Let's just have fun.' "
Kevin Hart and Eyre contributed three combined shutout innings before Ramirez hit another three-run shot in the sixth and Soto added a two-run blast moments later as the Cubs pulled away.
"Rammy is in that zone where he can carry us," Lee said. "You just try to get on base for him, and he'll drive you in.
"I like our team. We're playing good baseball, and we stepped up at the right time."
Neither Piniella nor the Cubs players seemed to interested in going home and watching the Brewers game on ESPN.
"I'm going to dinner," Piniella said. "One game over here today was plenty for me."